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Leaders struggle over the weekend


Last weekend was a bad weekend for point leaders in major racing series in North America.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. had 21 consecutive lead-lap finishes heading into Pocono for Sunday's scheduled 400-mile event. He even led more than 30 laps of the race, which was shortened by rain after 86 of 160 laps. But a broken transmission put the NASCAR point leader behind the wall for 17 laps, breaking his streak of lead-lap finishes and cutting sharply into his point lead.

Earnhardt was luckier than IndyCar point leader Ryan Hunter-Reay. Hunter-Reay had no luck at all at the Mid-Ohio road course, sustaining engine problems that dropped him out of the race and out of the point lead.

The NASCAR Camping World Truck Series tackled the tricky three-turn Pocono circuit, and point leader Timothy Peters crashed out of the race, cutting into his point lead.

Jeff Gordon grabbed his first Sprint Cup win of the year when the rains fell at Pocono on Sunday. Jimmie Johnson dominated the race, but on the last restart a cut tire (according to Johnson) caused him to get loose and slide up into Matt Kenseth, causing a multi-car accident from which Gordon emerged in front. Before the accident could be cleaned up the rains came.

Tragically a fan was killed and nine others injured by lightning strikes following the race. The identity of the 41-year-old fan killed was not released. Four others were hospitalized, one in critical condition on Sunday night.

There was no rain at Mid-Ohio, but like the Cup cars in Pocono, the dominant car didn't win. Will Power had the fastest car, but lost the lead on a pit stop to eventual winner Scott Dixon. Power assumed the point lead in the Izod IndyCar championship after Hunter-Reay's engine problems.

Joey Coulter grabbed his first NASCAR win in the truck race at Pocono. Nelson Piquet Jr. had the best truck, but didn't get going well enough on a restart to fend off Coulter.

A couple of racers in the truck series demand attention. Todd Bodine needs to hang up his helmet. He drove right across the bow of Piquet's truck and wrecked himself, yet he blamed Piquet for the accident and threw his helmet during the caution. Bodine has a history of never accepting blame for his own stupid decisions on the racetrack. That's probably why top Cup teams never touched him when he was available.

John Wes Townley is, well, I don't know, you make the call.

Townley, who had never finished higher in a NASCAR race than 14th in nearly 60 starts in trucks and the Nationwide Series, was slated to make his Cup debut at Pocono. Given Townley's record of crashing out of more races than he's finished, some expected he would be a certain caution during the Cup race.

In the first Cup practice session, Townley scraped the wall in the Frankie Stoddard-owned No. 32 before he even completed his first lap. He parked the car and excused himself from the ride. Jason White wound up behind the wheel on Sunday.

You could read the jokes all over the Internet concerning Townley, whose father owns Zaxby's restaurants and funds his racing. But then on Saturday, Townley drove the best race of his career, staying in the top 10 throughout, eventually finishing eighth.

Is Townley a talented racer? Did he get lucky in Saturday's truck race? Was he correct to pull himself out of the Cup ride? And will he ever make his Cup debut?

In all fairness, Townley hasn't been as much of a problem on track this year as he has been in the past. Could it be he's finally catching on?

He's certainly not improved enough to get the ride in Roger Penske's No. 22 car in 2013. A.J. Allmendinger is truly a disappointment. Were adderalls worth his NASCAR career? I expect he'll be finished in NASCAR, and probably end up in IndyCar after he finishes his rehabilitation. If not IndyCar, may be sports car racing. All that could possibly await him in stock cars are start-and-park rides.

Doug Liberman won the NASCAR Late Model feature at Old Dominion Speedway, and Tommy Armel won the Late Model race at Winchester. The Late Model Sportsman class took center stage at Hagerstown with Pete Weaver taking the win. Be sure to visit our local speedways before the season ends -- they only survive with the support of the fans.






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